‘I love your dress, where’s it from?’
That was the question I got numerous times at a wedding I went to recently.
I was wearing a vintage-style floral Hell Bunny dress, which I paired with some chunky nude heels that I’ve owned for nearly 10 years.
To each person who asked, I simply replied: ‘I bought it for just £8.99 from Oxfam!’
In fact, my boyfriend’s mum even told me that her dress was from a charity shop too, which just goes to show you can shop pre-loved fashion for any occasion.
It’s just one of the outfits I’ve sourced completely second-hand ever since I decided to take part in Oxfam’s ‘Second Hand September’ – a campaign that promotes donating, reusing, rewearing and restyling your clothes for a whole month – for the past four years.
I had always been a fan of recycled fashion. There’s a certain charm in clothing that has a story behind it and a thrill in searching for unique treasures.
Despite my love for vintage, I was a self-confessed fast fashion fanatic. Hours would slip away as I mindlessly scrolled through clothing apps. I was caught in the cycle of keeping up with ever-changing trends.
Then came the turning point.
I started working at Oxfam as a Festivals Marketing and Engagement Executive in October 2017. It was through this role that I learnt about Second Hand September and I thought it was a brilliant idea.
In 2019, I went to Latitude Festival and found myself having some thought-provoking conversations, which made me reflect on my own consumption. This included talking to people about the effects that the fashion industry has on the planet and how easy it was to change our shopping mindset.
So I thought to myself at the time: Why wasn’t I practising what I was preaching? I left determined to make a change in the way I shop for clothes - including doing Second Hand September that year.
The best thing I did at the start of my journey was to remove any temptation by unsubscribing from clothes retailers and deleting shopping apps off my phone. I also unfollowed influencers who continued to promote fast fashion hauls and replaced them with sustainable fashion accounts.
Immediately, I noticed that giving up buying new clothes was actually pretty easy and I enjoyed shopping so much more - going instead to physical stores and feeling glee when I found a hidden gem in the charity shop. My style became far more unique and I was saving so much money too!
The first month went so well that I decided then and there that I’d give up buying new clothes for good. And that was four years ago.
Now, every September I can look back at how far I have come in changing my shopping habits for the better.
It’s also my birthday in September, so it’s a great time to buy a second-hand outfit (or two) for the celebrations. This year, I turned 30 and was proudly wearing pre-loved clothes. Even my birthday badge wasn’t new - it was from my auntie’s 30th birthday just over 20 years ago.
My off-the-High-Street ventures have blessed me with numerous one-of-a-kind finds.
From a £150 Barbour wax jacket that I bought for £10 from the Sobell House Hospice charity shop in Headington, to a vintage handmade dress from the 40s that I got for £8 from my local Shaw Trust charity shop. I’ve even bagged myself nearly-new Dr. Marten boots for £20 from the Oxfam Superstore.
Some items carry designer labels – like Ralph Lauren and Comme Des Garçons – and some no labels at all, but each adds an interesting flair to my wardrobe.
Charity shops are also great for fancy dress outfits.
I found a boiler suit, belt, neon top and accessories - all for less than £15 - which I wore to a Guardians of the Galaxy Secret Cinema event for my birthday. I also spent around £15 after I found a funky yellow dress and tan boots for me and a tan suede shirt and retro round glasses for my boyfriend – all for a 70s-themed birthday party.
My wardrobe is bursting with amazing finds – so much so that I have just had to have a clear-out. I filled lots of bags to donate to my local Oxfam shop.
It keeps the circular economy going and makes me happy to know that someone else is going to get excited about finding something I have donated.
In my four years of shopping second-hand, I have only made one big new purchase. I was a bridesmaid and had to dress a very particular way. I couldn’t get around it.
Full disclosure, I have also bought necessities such as socks and underwear, but I choose to support more sustainable brands.
It’s hard to say exactly how much money I have saved over the last four-plus years but, with most items being less than half the original price, it’s a lot!
I also find myself shopping far less than I used to without the temptations of endless emails and notifications from shopping apps. I always love to seek out a bargain and if I can do this while also supporting a charity that’s even better – it’s a win win all round!
Every year, the fashion industry generates massive amounts of climate-damaging emissions in the production of new clothes. The way I shop now is how I can act in my own small way to help extend the life of clothes already in circulation and cut down on my own consumption.
And I’m not alone. Increasing numbers of shoppers, activists and people within the fashion industry are choosing second-hand fashion as it is no longer seen as second best.
It’s actually a badge of honour to say that I bought something this way as it is an environmental choice, as well as being great value for money.
For me, rummaging through vintage racks is like a treasure hunt, offering me unique pieces that enhance my personal style.
It’s amazing how easy and fun it can be.
Dress for the world you want this September by pledging to shop second-hand and donating all your unwanted clothes to Oxfam. Find out more in store or at: https://www.oxfam.org.uk/get-involved/second-hand-september/
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